There are so many changes involved with growing up, and so many milestones. Whether it’s going to high school or college, getting a driver’s license, or dating, worries abound. But I try to remember that my worry won’t do anything to help. God provides for all of my needs and theirs as well.
“Wait till they’re teenagers,” I’d always hear whenever I lamented about my toddlers throwing tantrums in the grocery store. I inferred from these comments that the teen years would be far more challenging.
But guess what? The teen years have arrived, and I’m finding them to be surprisingly enjoyable. My husband and I have a blended family, and we have four teens in our home ranging in age from 13 to 16. Two of them are boys and two are girls, and all are very different. All of them also have a strong relationship with Jesus, which in my opinion makes a huge difference.
We’re not through the teen years yet, but I have managed to learn several important things in the last few years. Here I share with you nine things I have learned from parenting teens that help underscore the faith lessons that keep our family rooted in Christ.
1. Keep Talking about Jesus
Maybe we thought we laid the groundwork when they were little, and now everything is set — but it’s super important to keep talking about Jesus, especially into the teen years. Otherwise, it’s like we’re relegating him to the stuff of childhood, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And besides, they need to hear about Jesus just as much today given all the challenges and temptations they are experiencing in the world.
When our teens hear me talk about Jesus or ask aloud what Jesus would do in a particular situation I’m facing, it’s a way for me to model what it looks like to be an adult who is trying to live her life guided by Jesus. And that’s what teens are, anyway, aren’t they? They are in reality miniature adults, caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood, learning as they go (in the midst of tumultuous mood swings and hormone fluctuations!) what it means to be a follower of Christ in the world today.
2. Keep Going to Church
It can be really tempting to back away from church when your kids get a little older. They are decidedly less enthusiastic about getting up early, and not every church has a thriving student ministry. Ours has a really active student ministry program for high school and middle schoolers, but for whatever reason my kids have always preferred the main service, not the age-segmented ones. Still, even if they’ve been out late working, hanging out with friends, or playing video games, it’s really important to wake up on a Sunday morning as a family to worship the Lord together. It shows them that our family makes worship a priority.
Also, by now they are old enough to really understand most of the sermons, and the messages impact them in important ways.
3. Pray Together
In addition to prayers at mealtimes, my kids and I used to pray every morning on the drive to school. But now, we gather in a little circle by the door, grab each other’s hands, and say a prayer together before my kids head out, driven to high school by my oldest son. Just because our routine has changed doesn’t mean we need to stop praying — it’s just changed the manner of our prayer.
4. Listening Is Key
I make my kids tell me what happened at school. I don’t care only about the academics, either – I want to know who they talked to, what their friends are going through, whatever they want to say. I think it’s really important that we share quality time together and they get (and stay) in the habit of talking to me about the stuff of regular life.
They might just mumble a few words and want to go up to their room, and that’s fine, but we still are in the routine of talking together about the day. They know I care, and they know I want to talk to them and hear from them. That pays off when they need to talk to me about really important things, like temptations, relationship issues, or other serious problems they’re struggling with.
5. Don’t Fight Back
If my child gets mouthy, I don’t step up — I take a step back. I try to recognize the situation for what it is: maybe they’re testing my limits, or they’re just in a really rotten mood. It doesn’t mean they’re allowed to talk to me in a disrespectful way, but what it does mean most certainly is that I definitely do not fight with them. I do not get on their level, engage in anger with them, and let my temper or my own sassiness match theirs.
Sometimes all it takes is one look of chastisement from me before they mutter, “Sorry, I didn’t really mean to say that.” They get the picture. I’m an adult, not a kid. I need to stay on “adult level,” not stoop to “kid level.” They have a bunch of friends but only one mom, so I need to stay on my level and act like a mom.
6. Let Them See Your Struggles
If we’re out and we encounter a snotty cashier at the drive-through window, I strive to handle myself politely and with compassion. But after we drive away, I will often acknowledge to my kids that it was really hard for me to remain kind. I admit that perhaps I wanted to snap back at the cashier or ask for the manager, but instead I tried to treat that cashier the way I knew Jesus probably would have.
Similarly, if I’m going through a conflict at work or have to make an important decision, I might share that with them and acknowledge that I don’t know the solution, but that I plan to pray to God about it and ask God to guide me, and I ask them to pray for me, too.
It helps us stay real and rooted together.
7. Talk about Important Stuff
If we watch a movie or hear a song and questionable topics arise, I use it as an opportunity to talk about heavier matters with them. Or sometimes they’re the ones who bring up the topics. I try not to get embarrassed when they asked me candid questions about sex, drugs, drinking, or how to resist temptation. I’m glad they come to me about it, and if I don’t know the answer, we might look it up together.
We talk about what it realistically looks like to be a Christian in a worldly culture that doesn’t always reflect the values we have. We talk about those struggles.
8. Don’t Worry So Much
We parents can drive ourselves bonkers with worry. I strive to resist that. Instead, I just pray over my kids and release them to the protection of the Lord. There are so many changes involved with growing up, and so many milestones. Whether it’s going to high school or college, getting a driver’s license, or dating, worries abound. But I try to remember that my worry won’t do anything to help. God provides for all of my needs and theirs as well. I just need to have faith and trust everything will be OK.
9. Positive Affirmations Help
Just like when they were little and I would praise my kids for doing something nice, I try to do the same thing now that they’re teenagers. If my son holds the door for me, I acknowledge it and thank him. If my daughter comforts a friend who is stressed out, I praise her for being compassionate and helpful. It’s important to let our kids know that we see them when they are doing the right thing and we appreciate the people they are — and that we see the adults they will one day become.
We have five more years until everyone is off to college, and I’m still learning. But these lessons have helped us all so far, and I share them with you in the hopes they might help you, too. What have I missed? Do you have any other helpful suggestions for Christian parenting today’s teens?
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/jacoblund
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.